Thursday, March 17, 2016

The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime - The Review



Welcome to the New Jedi Order.  A series of books that Zyra was excited to get to, as was I until I realized that they are 19 novels in the series!  Wholly moley, what were we thinking when we started this?!  We've done so many of these, it seems impossible to have so many still ahead of us.  But here we go.  This book starts off with the introduction of the new enemy, a very strange, and utterly scary enemy.  It also has a famous death.  Spoilers ahead, you've been warned.

We start off with Leia, Jaina and Mara Jade flying in Mara’s ship.  They are heading toward twin planets, Rhommamool and Osarian, to try and broker peace between them.  We spend a good bit of time hearing Leia’s thoughts on her growing daughter.  Jaina is sixteen and Leia is looking at her the way a mother does when their child has seemingly grown up overnight.  Leia compares Jaina to her younger self, seeing the fire and determination that defined the young Princess Leia Organa.  

I didn’t necessarily have a bunch of quotes to share from this first chapter, but it was really quite an enjoyable read for me.  There was even some self-admitted jealousy regarding Mara Jade’s relationship with Jaina on Leia’s part.  Jaina picked Mara as her Jedi Master trainer and Leia is all-at-once grateful for the relationship and role model that Mara is to her daughter but is also jealous of it.  I thought this rang very true and is something that most parents go through, wanting role models and friends for their children but also harboring those protective and sometimes possessive feelings for them.  

The chapter also touches on Mara Jade’s illness, a mysterious disease that has no cure and has killed everyone else who contracted it.  Mara fights it with her Force skills but it takes its toll on her even though she stoutly refuses to talk of it or garner special treatment because of it.  A little bit of this bothered me but I can’t quite put my finger on it.  Don't get me wrong, I like Mara, but some of the whole illness thing felt contrived - like they were trying to make us feel sorry for her, trying to make her a little more human and vulnerable after playing her up so much but at that same time keeping her awesomeness because she's fighting a disease that no one else can and refusing help or special treatment.  ::shrugs::  IDK.  What did you guys who've read it think?

Mara gives us an ominous overview of the political figure that Leia is scheduled to meet and negotiate with on Rhommamool, Nom Anor.  Mara has met him before and warns Leia that he is not to be trifled with.  As they approach the Republic capital ship, the Mediator that is stationed between the twin planets, some ships come in to intercept them.  It appears that the Osarians want Leia to come and see them first, taking her scheduled visit to Rhommamool as a slight.  Leia orders the pilots to “lose them” and Mara hands Jaina the controls.  And we have this to sum up most of what I’ve been describing in this chapter:

It was the sight of Jaina, the fire in her brown eyes, the determined set of her jaw, the sheer concentration. At that moment, Leia knew. 

Her daughter was a woman now, and with all the grit of her father and mother combined.

Jaina does a fair bit of piloting (her superior skills are a common theme throughout this book) but before she can lose the ships another ship, X-wing class, comes to their ‘rescue’ and shoots the pursuers down.  The Jade Sabre heads to the Mediator and once debarked, Leia dresses down the Jedi Knight that was flying the X-wing and had come to their rescue uninvited, stating that had Jaina been allowed to simply outmaneuver the pursuers they could’ve avoided a diplomatic incident.  This is the first encounter we have with what is also a common theme in this book: rogue Jedi.  Basically they are fully trained Jedi Knights that have been ‘released’ after their training and are flying around the galaxy dispensing justice as they see fit and not always as maybe they should be had they some hierarchy or direction.  But more on that later.

One last thing though, when Mara witnesses Leia chewing out the Jedi pilot and the Commander of the Mediator for the little stunt that was pulled, we have this:

As they all started away, Leia did manage a bit of a smile when she heard Mara behind her tell Jaina, "Maybe Nom Anor has met his match." 

I especially enjoyed this because it is a rare sight that we see the fabulous Mara Jade impressed with little, old Leia Organa, even though we all know that she should be in total awe of her at all times.  :-)  

When they finally get to Rhommamool, we see that Nom Anor’s followers are fanatics that are not only against the New Republic but also against anything mechanical and there are pits in the streets where they beat up droids and speeders and crush them.  Needless to say, C3PO is not a fan of this practice.  Once again, Mara warns Leia against underestimating Nom Anor and Mara indicates that the man has no Force presence as if he is a black hole in the Force.

We have an entire chapter regarding a scientific outpost, ExGal-4 on Belkadan.  There is a character called Danni Quee who diligently works there and basically they are setup to look for incoming vessels or beings entering the galaxy from other systems.  There are other people there (15 total); names don’t matter except for Yomin Carr.  He is a bad guy masquerading as a human.  He inserts a wormlike creature into his ear to understand different languages.  He is a Vong and we get our first description of the enemies that basically wreak havoc in the galaxy from this point forward.  They are tattoed with disfigurements and they consider self mutilation some sort of point of pride.  Vector Prime (the name of this book) is identified as the “predetermined entry point into the galaxy” for the Vong invasion.  Yomin Carr has been sent to ExGal-4 to sabotage their communications and allow the Vong to enter the solar system unabated.  

When the humans do notice a signal (something entering the galaxy) and start discussing it, Yomin Carr thinks this:

Then, predictably, the debate began. It never ceased to amaze Yomin Carr how endlessly these humans could debate and argue about practically anything, an observation that merely reinforced his belief in the strict hierarchical structure of his own society. He would never question a prefect, a prefect would never question a high prefect, as these fools were arguing with Danni now. 

Never - and that, he believed, was the weakness his masters would come to exploit.

I have to say, the Vong do end up being a crafty little foe for the GFFA and a lot of this foreshadowing is probably lost on the first go ‘round when you don’t really know what the nine hells is in store just yet.  Anyway, by the time everyone on ExGal-4 is sure an extragalactic vessel has entered space, Yomin Carr tries to stall them from alerting anyone else (lest they discover they can’t anyway because he’s sabotaged their communications) until they are sure it isn’t a malfunction and don’t end up making fools of themselves.  He succeeds and the chapter ends with this:  

Yomin Carr smiled inwardly once again. If practical arguments didn't work against these often stubborn inferior heretics, then appealing to their overblown sense of pride always did. He looked about at the working scientists, at their excitement and sense of relief and accomplishment. If only they knew. 

More than halfway across the galaxy, Nom Anor sat quietly in front of his villip, considering the words of his agent, Yomin Carr. 

It had begun.

Dunh. Duhn. Duhn!

A villip, by the way, is some sort of inter-stellar communication device used by the Vong.

Later on, Danni Quee and her fellow co-workers witness something that they think is a comet or meteor crash into a nearby planet.  It's the Vong, of course and they are doing something and it involves a warship, coralskippers (small ships) and a yammosk and it’ll all make sense later.    

Next we go to Luke and Jacen on Coruscant to speak to the leaders of the New Republic about reinstating a Jedi Council.  Luke is slated to meet with our old Bothan friend, Borsk Fey’lya.  Jacen Solo is not a fan of the idea of the Council and there is much discussion between the two (Luke and Jacen) about it.  I’m sure there is some brilliant foreshadowing regarding Jacen’s eventual fall in here as well, but I mostly skimmed through this chapter.  Suffice it to say, Luke thinks the Jedi need some kind of leadership (the Council) and Jacen is against it.  There is also some discussion about the rogue Jedi that we mentioned earlier and how their actions are worrying Luke, although he and Jacen don’t see eye-to-eye on that either.

Following their meeting with Borsk, Jacen and Luke meet up with Han, Chewie and Anakin.  Anakin had flown the Falcon and during some “hot dogging” had messed some things up pretty badly and everyone is working on it.  There were your typical rants about teenagers and Anakin calls the Falcon “just a stupid ship” and overall it was cute to see Han dealing with the effects of having growing kids.  Luke briefs Han on the situation and tells him that he wants to investigate the rogue Jedi on the Outer Rim and inquires about Lando who is rumored to be out there.  Lando is running some kind of mining operation that includes a run through an asteroid field for fun and profits.  Everyone agrees to head out that way to get some scoop from Lando and maybe a little vacation as they plan to meet up with the girls as they return from Rhommamool.

We head back to Rhommamool and Leia’s visit to Nom Anor.  Nom Anor is awaiting Leia and he is discussing the visit with his accomplice.  Through their discussion we find out that Mara’s disease is a Vong creation and Nom Anor himself infected her when they had met previously.  They are stunned that she is not dead yet and consider her a powerful adversary, chalking Leia and Jaina up as lesser, not-fully-trained Jedi.  I’ll share this bit of description of the Vong’s self-mutilation just to give you a taste:

He had taken the eye out with the sharpened end of a burning stick. Of course, he had filled that hole in his face with yet another marvelous organic innovation, a plaeryin bol, a creature that looked much like a normal Yuuzhan Vong eyeball, but its pupil was really a mouth, and one that could spit a venomous glob accurately across ten meters at the command of its host, by a simple twitch of Nom Anor's eyelid.

In keeping with their hatred of all things mechanical, you’ll find that the Vong utilize organic creatures such as the villip and the fake eye described above as well as for their spacecraft and weaponry.  We find out that Nom Anor only set this meeting up with Leia to see how Mara Jade was faring with her illness and also to size up the competition and look for weak links.  Nom Anor was wearing a mask that he knows makes him look like Darth Vader and takes pleasure in the reaction that it gets from Princess Leia. The meeting consists of Nom Anor making impossible demands and Leia and company leaving having accomplished nothing. 

We see the Jade Sabre returning to Coruscant.  Leia catches Mara crying and Mara confesses that the disease is attacking her womb and she worries she may never have children.  The two share some time together and it’s nice to see Leia get a girlfriend and do some bonding.  Then we cut over to Jacen and Anakin in the Falcon on Coruscant.  Jacen lectures Anakin about always practicing with his lightsaber and the pair disagree.  Anakin feels the Jedi should uphold the law and that the lightsaber is a tool for that, Jacen feels that a Jedi must search from within himself to uphold his own code. 

Jaina returns and brags to her brothers about her flying.  Mara and Luke talk about the rogue Jedi and there some cute interactions between Chewie and all the Solo children in one place.  They are still working on the Falcon and Chewie decides to take a break from arguing with Han to accompany Leia to a debrief meeting.  During the meeting a councilor begins to lecture Chewie on some Wookiee negotiations that are taking place and having had enough of humans for one day he hangs the man in a closet on a hook by his jacket.  Leia comes out of her meeting exhausted and fed up and although she scolds Chewie at first for his actions she actually leaves the man hanging there and walks away.

We then finally get a Han and Leia reunion and of course I’ll have to just paste it:  

Leia's mood improved immediately, and greatly, when they finally reached the Falcon, when she saw again that glimmer in her husband's eye. After all these years, the fire remained between Leia and Han, a deep and honest love and respect. 

Yes, that's the small, simple stuff that now make the EU that much better.

They talk a little bit comparing notes since they were apart.  Luke is there and they discuss the rogue Jedi, a problem Leia had personally dismissed until her recent encounter.  Han tells Leia about their plans to go ‘far away’ and Leia seems to like the idea of getting away until Han divulges that the trip involves seeing Lando.

So much for any thoughts of vacation, Leia realized, for anytime Lando was involved, even peripherally, situations seemed to get very complicated, and usually dangerous. In truth, she wasn't particularly thrilled with her husband having any dealings with Lando; the man always seems to pull Han into something on the very edge of disaster. Of course, that only strengthened her resolve to go along.

Always nice to see Leia worrying about who her husband was hanging around with and not wanting him to get into trouble.

Leia and Mara share some more girl time during their trip to see Lando.  After C3PO calls Leia “Lady Vader” imitating her Noghri bodyguard, Leia says this:

"You call me that again and I'll send you into an oil bath with an open flame," she promised C-3PO quietly. 

And then:

Leia turned and nodded. "I don't know," she said with a shake of her head. "Maybe I've reached a point in my life where I want to think of myself as Leia. Not Princess Leia, not Councilor Leia, not Chief of State Leia, and not," she finished, turning to stare pointedly at C-3PO, "Lady Vader. Just Leia." 

When she turned back to Mara, she found the woman nodding her agreement. 

"Do you think that selfish?" Leia asked Mara. 

Mara smiled all the wider. "I think it human," she answered. "Once we're past saving the galaxy, we have to spend some time saving ourselves."

Mara and Leia briefly discuss Mara’s desire to have children and how, although they are the same age, she and Mara are at different points in their lives.  And then this:

Leia paused a moment to consider the truth of those words, to consider her own perspective of the universe around her, how she had willingly, eagerly, run away from her expected responsibilities at the Core, even leaving her bodyguard far behind, of how she wanted, truly desired, to turn down the dial of her life's work, to sit back for a while and enjoy all the prosperity that her actions and sacrifices had helped bring about in the galaxy.

Really?  Leia thinks that she ought to be able to sit back and enjoy the fruits of her labor for a bit?  What a novel idea.  Just not what this novel is going to give her, unfortunately.  :-(

Back at that scientific outpost, a contingent of scientists (led by Danni Quee) leave the planet to check out the apparent meteor crash on a nearby frozen world.  After they leave, Yomin Carr kills one of the scientists left behind and talks on his villip about a deadly poisonous gas (produced by beetles) that will soon overtake the planet of Belkadan and kill everyone anyway.  Then, on Rhomammool, Nom Anor attacks the nearby planet of Osarian leaving it ‘in flames’.

Back on Belkadan, the noxious gas storm is overtaking the planet and some of the remaining scientists decide to go out and investigate it.  When they encounter what they think is a storm and find that it is poisonous air, they don their oxygen packs and began to hi-tail it back to the compound.  Unfortunately, they can’t all make it and as each one surrenders their oxygen to the survivor only one makes it back to the compound to return to a waiting Yomin Carr who then kills them.  

Danni Quee and the other scientists reach the frozen world and are confused by what they see.  Expecting to see the remnants of a meteor crash they don’t quite know what to make out of the Vong landing.  They do decide to send out a general broadcast since their fellow scientists continue not to answer any communications.  Then, as what they think are asteroids approach them, they only realize too late that they are actually rock-like flying ships that are attacking them (coralskippers).  All of those scientists are killed except for Danni Quee, who is kept alive as Yomin Carr had considered her a worthy inductee and she is ‘spared’.  We see her enveloped by some weird living armor as she struggles in vain and is told by the Vong to prepare to witness the destruction of her galaxy.

Meanwhile, the Skywalker and Solo clans arrive at Lando’s base.  We do get this as the greetings are taking place:

"Ha-ha!" he (Lando) laughed, moving over to wrap Han in a great hug, and then put one over Leia - one that pointedly lasted a little bit longer, drawing a jealous scowl from Han.

Lando explains his game “Lando’s Folly” which basically consists of pilots running through an asteroid field in modified TIE fighters with enhanced shielding generated from a nearby station.  When Lando sees the looks on Han and Leia’s faces at his choice of spacecraft he explains that they are able to take a beating, to which Han comments: “Don’t we know that?  I thought that was cute.  

Of course, the Solo kids want a chance to fly and get the high score, currently held by Kyp Durron, one of the rogue Jedi Knights and they all suit up after Leia’s reluctant agreement and get ready to run the route.

Jacen goes first and then Anakin with Jaina suited up in her TIE waiting to go next.  Anakin’s run ends with a small collision and him spinning about for awhile, which totally freaks Leia out.  

"Anakin?" came the frantic call from the ground station, Leia's voice.

Of course, he comes out okay but obviously shaken up which prompts this:

"That's enough," Leia said, apparently catching on to the same thing. "Bring it in, Jaina." 

"Ready to fire!" Jaina called, clicking to a different channel and pretending she hadn't heard. She wasn't about to let Anakin's misfortune slow her down - she knew she should have gone first! "Am I cleared for entry?" she asked the air controller on Belt-Runner I. 

"Fire away," he came back. 

"Jaina!" Leia's voice came in, her mom-sense easily finding her daughter's new channel. 

But Jaina throttled up quickly, speeding for the entry point of the belt. Most pilots went in at a virtual standstill, coming against the flow of the asteroids and using their drives only for dodging maneuvers. It wasn't a distance test, after all, but merely a duration challenge. 

Jaina, though, fearing her mother would find a way to call it all off, hit the belt running ... and fast.

I liked this.  First Leia’s worry and then Jaina’s feistiness and the mention of Leia’s “mom-sense” being able to quickly find her new channel.  Total fun to read, in fact, this entire chapter was pretty fun since it revolved most solely around the Solo offspring and Han and Leia.  Speaking of, we get this little exchange between mom and dad a little further down as we read about Jaina’s run through Lando’s Folly:

Han heard a low growl escape Leia's lips as Jaina soared into the asteroid belt. He draped his arm about his wife's shoulders. 

"She heard me," Leia remarked quietly and coldly. 

Han tightened his grip, pulling Leia closer. Of course Jaina had heard her, and of course Jaina had pretended differently, had gone after the run that had consumed her thoughts these last days. Leia would get over it, Han knew, but if Jaina had acceded to her mother's demand, had lost the challenge she had so desperately wanted, the chill between mother and daughter would have been lasting.

"She'll be all right," he remarked, but even he winced as Jaina's TIE, clearly visible on the great screens in the central control room, broke into its three-quarter roll and burst out at the very last instant. "She's the best flyer of the three."

I love the “she heard me” from Leia and can just feel her fuming “mom-sense” and totally relate and sympathize.  I like Han’s insight, too and how it implies how in tuned he is to not only his children’s strengths and personalities but also of the delicate relationships between mother and daughter.

Jaina does remarkably well and even Leia calms down and begins to root for her and as she spectacularly finishes her run knocking Kyp off of first place we get an oft-used “the kid can fly” from proud poppa Han.

Back to the scientific outpost.  Yomin Carr is steadily killing the remaining scientist as the noxious cloud is overtaking the planet.  Meanwhile, Nom Anor is heading over to the Mediator to talk to the Commander there about a peace agreement.  It is a planned farce, however, and he sends a fake escape capsule into the docking bay to explode and destroy most of the Republic ship.  Nom Anor and his accomplice escape amongst the confusion.  During their trip, they recap their status and are happy to hear of Yomin Carr’s progress and success on Belkadan and the frozen planet.  I’ll paste this here to provide an nice overview of the situation and what the yammosk does (it’ll be important later):

Nom Anor nodded his approval - and relief. The Praetorite Vong would be vulnerable for a while, with only the one frozen planet as a true base. There was great advantage in using a war coordinator, a yammosk, for the attack. In addition to its own powerful energies, and true to its title as war coordinator, the creature could bring the forces of the three expeditionary worldships into tight focus and purpose, could allow the coralskippers to fly in perfect unison, thus making them many times more efficient. But there was a downside to such an endeavor, for if the New Republic somehow managed to bring all of their considerable firepower to bear on that frozen base planet and, impossible as it seemed, managed to destroy the yammosk, the resulting chaos among the Praetorite Vong could bring about complete disaster. The Praetorite Vong had to move slowly at first, allowing the yammosk to put all the base defenses in place, and to allow for the arrival of the next two fighter-packed worldships.

Yep, they are pretty well organized and ready to destroy everything.  Their next target?  Sernpidal.

Back at Lando’s Folly: everyone is talking about Jaina’s victory and Kyp even comes to tell her that he’ll be working to get his first place spot back.  The kids talk, there is more debate about the role of the Force and of the Jedi and then we cut over to the adults.  Lando is trying to get some of the older members of the Skywalker/Solo clan to fly the Folly (he makes money of the betting).  Mara, Luke and Leia refuse, so Lando turns to Han and Chewie (there is a twin-seater they can fly).  I make it a point to include most any mention of contact between Han and Leia so I’ll point out that Han and Chewie replied thusly:

"I'm too old and slow," Han replied, draping an arm across Leia's shoulders.

Chewie just gave a howl.

The kids walk in and:

Jaina looked around curiously, focusing on Lando and her parents, then on Chewie, who seemed rather agitated, and then, finally, settling her gaze on her aunt. 

"Lando wants Chewie and Han to take a run at the belt in a two-seater," Mara explained. "It sounds like a good idea to me." 
 
Leia pulled away from her husband, who gave her one of his typical plaintive smirks. In truth, she wasn't crazy about the idea of Han running into a such a game - even if Lando had guaranteed that there would be minimal danger. Her protective instincts couldn't stand up against that smirk, though. Han obviously didn't want to go, or didn't care enough to bother, and she was unable to resist the urge to prod him. "Me, too," she agreed. 

Chewie issued a series of howls this time, telling them that he was intrigued by the idea. 

"That's a kid's game," Han replied with a snort. "I'm too old and too slow and too sore."

Lando eggs him on further by telling them who owns the current record: a pair of two-bit smugglers that Han knows and that if they don’t fly it, they’ll be acknowledging the other pilot’s superior flying skills.  

"Yeah, yeah," Han admitted. He looked around at the others, to see them all staring at him, all smiling. "What?" he asked innocently. 

Those smiles were even wider when Lando's crew worked to squeeze Han and the giant Chewie into the twin shock couches of a TIE bomber. One unfortunate attendant twisted Chewie's leg the wrong way, and the Wookiee responded with a backhand slap - not a hard one, just enough to send the man tumbling a few meters. The crew finally managed to get the two into place; Chewie looked somewhat ridiculous, with his legs bent at such an angle that his knobby, hairy knees were nearly as high as his chin.

"Ready away?" came the call. 

"How are we supposed to fly like this?" Han protested, looking doubtfully at Chewie. 

The Wookiee howled. 

"Well, you don't look fine!" Han retorted. 

"It won't matter," Lando replied. "You won't get near to Moss and Twinge's mark of four forty-one anyway." 

Chewie roared. 

"Ready away!" Han cried.

"Always appeal to his pride," Lando whispered to Leia and the others with a wink, and as soon as Han and Chewie blasted out of the dock, they all headed back to the control room to watch the show.

And quite a show it is, really.  I recommend reading this part in total, it’s a blast.  Han and Chewie are breaking things and making mistakes but, as always with their luck, they are making it look as if they planned it and flying beautifully.  That is until halfway through their run the shields go down and they are flying without shields.  Luke tears off to go after them as Han and Chewie’s ship careens out of control and loses signal.

"Find them," Leia whispered under her breath, aiming the words and the prayer at her brother, Luke, the pilot of that soon-to-be-belt-running TIE fighter.

The book leaves you on a cliffhangar, so I will do the same.  We cut to Kyp and his band of rogue Jedi named: the dozen-and-two Avengers.  <insert eye roll here>  They're flying about and catch some of the Belkadan scientists’ broadband communication.  They see that Belkadan is a scientific outpost and that it seems as though some of the scientist have evacuated due to a storm.  They decide to follow the direction of the evacuees to the Helska system and put out a communication of their own for anyone else with time to check up on the deserted scientific outpost on Belkadan. 

Cut back to Han and Chewie.  Luke finds them. Of course.  But not before he almost writes them off as gone and goes through some reminiscing of how much he and Han’s relationship has gone through over the years and how much he would miss the both of them.  All the while he has Leia in his ear demanding and pleading for updates until he just decides to cut off the speaker so that he can concentrate.  He finally spots them:

There sat Chewie and Han, arguing as usual, Han pointing one way, Chewie another, and both shaking their heads at the same time. Han had some blood on his forehead. Chewie noticed Luke in the TIE fighter then and gave a great Wookiee roar - Luke could tell because of the way Han grabbed at his ears. 

"They're all right!" Luke called, clicking on the communicator. 

"Where are they?" Leia cried. 

They drag the pair out and we get an ominous thought from Luke that this is just another example of a long series of amazing dodges against the claws of the grim specter of death.  We even get a “they always seem to find a way” from Leia.  If you don’t know what is about to happen in this book, none of this seems really notable but these are the kinds of things (along with all the wonderful family moments) that during a re-read take on their own kind of thoughtful consideration.

"That tin can you sent to get us hit every asteroid in sight on the way out," Han complained, but the others, too relieved to see the pair alive, merely smiled. 

Chewie, though, wasn't finished with the complaining,-and with a Wookiee, complaints usually took the form of action. He headed straight for Lando, arms outstretched as if he meant to choke the life out of the man. Luke and Mara, Leia and the three kids, all stepped in between, but all started sliding back as Chewie continued his stalk. 

Finally, though, with Lando retreating to match the Wookiee's progress, Chewie backed off.
"Did we beat Moss and Twingo?" Han asked, breaking the tension.

A true competitor to the bitter end, old Han.  Their communications went out just before they got the record but Lando gives them a few extra seconds and Han and Chewie are firmly in first place and everyone begins to congratulate them.

Han was going to explain that Chewie deserved the credit, that the blow to his head had knocked him senseless for those few critical seconds, but the Wookiee interjected a long wail, a confirmation of their teamwork effort. They were a unit, comrades, the closest and most trusted
of friends, and by definition of that bond, the credit for either one's exploits would be deservedly shared by the other. 

Han took it all in with a wink to his Wookiee counterpart. "No problem," he assured them, his face twisting into a wry smile. 

Later, Lando wants Han to do a supply run to none other than Sernpidal – you remember?  The place where, unbeknownst to our heroes, Nom Anor wanted to destroy next?  Anyway, Han reluctantly agrees to go while Luke and Mara agree to go to Belkadan in response to the Kyp Durron communication that something was going on over there.

Leia begged off going, but suggested, strongly, that Han take Anakin along for the flight, and even suggested that Han might want to let Anakin take the helm again. 

He just looked at her helplessly, his expression one of surrender. She was the ultimate mediator, and he had known all along, of course, that she would find a way to sort out the problems between father and son concerning Anakin's wild piloting near Coruscant. 

Seems like Han isn’t the only one that is keeping tabs on parent-child relationships.  ;-)

We cut back to Kyp and his team as they arrive in the Helska system and are attacked by coralskippers.  They, at first, think that the strange attackers are easy prey but find that they have some kind of creatures that attach to their ships and disable their shields.  One-by-one his team is taken down and  Kyp is the only one to make it out alive as he makes a quick jump to hyperspace with a few of the strange creatures in tow.  Kyp is able to fight them off and once freed begins to limp toward the closest planet he can identify: Sernpidal.

We then head back to Danni Quee kept inside of that big yammosk thing.  One of Kyp’s Jedi, Miko, is brought to her banged up and beaten from the space fight.  Danni and Miko talk and try to escape only to be caught.  Danni is once again spared and the more time she spends inside the yammosk the more she begins to understand and dread their intentions for her galaxy.  She is forced to watch as Miko, the Jedi that tried to help her, is ingested by the strange creature.  But later we find that he not dead but is slowly being tortured over and over again as Danni Quee is made to watch.

Things aren’t looking much better for Han, Chewie and Anakin as they arrive on Sernpidal to find everyone in a panic.  It seems one of their moons is on a collision course with the planet (the Vong’s doing).   

"Never seem to have a Death Star lying around when you need one," Han muttered. He glanced over his shoulder at Chewie, who was busy checking readings and working some calculations. 

The Wookiee stared intently at the screen, scratched his hairy head a couple of times, then issued a wail, poking the screen. 

"Look at what?" Han protested, swiveling his chair about. 

Chewie roared emphatically. 

"Seven hours?" Han echoed, stunned. "Let me see that." He slapped the Wookiee's hand away, but his scolding ended abruptly as he read the line Chewie had been indicating. 

"Our day just got better," Han said, looking back to Anakin. "Sernpidal's got seven hours."  

And that’s Han’s new task, to get as many people evacuated off the planet in the next seven hours. 

First they try to find out why the moon is falling and Anakin figures out that it keeps dipping closer at the same point during its orbit indicating that there is some sort of gravity well or interdictor.  Flying around on the Falcon, they are unable to find the cause.  They land and begin to organize an evacuation with too many people and too few ships.  Anakin tells Han that he can find the cause of the gravity well and Han reluctantly agrees to let his son go, along with Sernpidal’s quirky mayor, in a landspeeder and find the cause so that he and Chewie can then come and blast it with the Falcon.      
We go back to Luke and Mara.  They land on Belkadan, confused by the devastation there.  Mara’s illness seems to worsen on the planet and they find the dead beetles that they think may have something to do with the noxious gas.  Mara and Yomin Carr fight a brutal battle in which Mara barely wins.  Artoo downloads all he can and as the pair leave they piece all of their information together.  Mara recognizes the similarities between Yomin Carr and Nom Anor with their lack of Force presence.  They also pick up a pair of villips and witness a message, determining them to be communication devices and hearing the word “Vong” for the first time.

Chapter 17, Vector Prime.  You might want to read the entire thing, I don’t know.  I can still remember how I felt as I read it.  Like so many other things, though, it now kinda pales in comparison.  But anyway, here’s the synopsis:  Anakin and the mayor find the source of the gravity well, a living thing that buries itself underground when Anakin shoots it.  Han comes in the Falcon to pick them up and the mayor jumps into the crater after the weird creature with a thermal detonator in tow.  They return to get Chewie in the last moments before impact.

I don’t know exactly which parts to share.  Really you should just probably read it all.  But Chewie and Anakin are working feverishly to rescue some citizens that have been buried in debris.  While returning with a small child, Han standing on the Falcon’s ramp:

They were near, so close that Han could almost grab Anakin's extended hand, when a barrage of debris swept past. Chewie held his ground and turned his powerful body to protect the toddler, but a piece of stone clipped Anakin's head, costing him his concentration and launching him far in a rolling, bouncing tumble. 

Han's eyes widened with horror; Chewie thrust the toddler into Han's arms before he could begin to move, and then the Wookiee turned about and half ran, half rode the wind to catch up to the fallen Anakin. 

Han handed off the toddler and rushed back for the cockpit, knowing the two could never get back to the Falcon against this mounting storm. He brought the Falcon in fast but steady, moving to the spot even as Chewie lifted Anakin in his arms.

Han locked her in place and rushed back to the landing ramp, pushing aside those who had moved into position to help. But the Falcon couldn't hold position now, and she drifted up and to the side - or maybe it was the ground dipping down and to the side - her engines roaring in protest. 

"Chewie!" he cried, hanging right off the ramp now. Several others crowded about Han, holding him in place by the legs. He reached desperately for the Wookiee, but the Falcon was up too high. 

Chewbacca gave his friend a resigned, contented look, then threw Anakin up into Han's waiting arms.
The ground rolled and bucked, and suddenly, Chewie was far, far away. 

Han cradled Anakin to the floor just inside, and the boy was conscious again, struggling to his feet as his father rushed back to the cockpit.

They can’t see Chewie but Han follows Anakin’s direction as the boy uses his Force connection to locate the Wookiee.  The deteriorating planet and maelstrom of rocks and wind make their job nearly impossible and each time they creep closer to Chewie, something happens to rock them or him further away.  Knowing they are running out of time before the impending explosion, Han leaves Anakin to pilot the Falcon while he goes down to the boarding ramp to try and reach his old friend.

Anakin worked furiously over the controls, the ship vibrating so violently that he thought it might just shake apart. He turned her up on her side to get down one alley, and swooped around another teetering building. 

"Oh, no," he breathed, for there stood Chewie, his back to the Falcon, and in front of the Wookiee, a fiery Dobido (the moon) was streaking down. 

"Closer!" came Han's voice. 

Chewie turned about and took one step toward Han and the Falcon, and then a burst of tremendous, hot wind blasted through, tossing him to the ground, toppling buildings. One pile of rubble crashed atop the Falcon - her shields groaned in protest - and sent the nose of the ship up, up. 

Anakin fought her back to level, started to turn her about to find the Wookiee, but saw instead, in all her devastating glory, the last descent of Dobido, the arrival, to those faithful natives still praying in the ruined streets, of Tosi-karu. 

They were out of time. Anakin knew it immediately. If he turned for Chewie, if he did anything other than take her straight up and out, the explosion of the crashing moon would tear the Falcon apart. 

He heard his father's pleading cry to get him back to Chewie. 

He pointed the Millennium Falcon skyward and punched the throttle. 

Han saw. 

A battered and bloody Chewie regained his footing, stood up high on one pile of rubble, and faced the descending moon with arms upraised and a defiant roar. 

The scene receded quickly, but Han kept his eyes locked on the spot, burning that image of the very last moments of his friend's life indelibly into his consciousness. And then he saw the beginning to the final cataclysm as Dobido plowed into the city. 

The landing ramp rose suddenly, locking into place - Han knew it to be the doings of his son - and then the Falcon went spinning away as the shock wave hit her. 

Han didn't even consider the danger to him and the others, not even to his son at that critical moment. He just thought of Chewie, of that last tragic image, the Wookiee shaking his fist at the great, unbeatable enemy. 

A fitting last pose of defiance, but one that did nothing to mend the tear ripping through Han's heart.

Very, very sad stuff.  It was hard to read this again, even knowing what was coming.  The entire book was so different this time around as I said, every scene, every word seemed to be a harbinger of this eventual end.  It's really just heart-wrenching.  Boo.  

New rule:  main characters should just never die.

But really, Chewie does die in a heroic way, saving Anakin and all the others before that.  It was fitting, so to speak and I guess that makes it better or easier.  But man, it still sucks.  And the picture painted of Chewie’s last stance and Han’s reaction, oh man.  The feels.  :-(

But there’s more.  In the theme that will carry on into the following books, we begin to experience the effects this tragedy has on Han Solo and his family and here we thought the death itself was hard to read.  Double boo.

Han Solo stared at the wobbling planet for a long, long time, his eyes registering the truth that his heart could not. 

"We've got a hundred and eleven ships in the convoy," Anakin said, coming up behind his father nervously, not really knowing what to say or do, whether to hug Han or run away from him.

Han turned to face his young son, his face blank as if he had not heard. 

"A hundred and ele -" Anakin started to reiterate. 

"You left him," Han said quietly, calmly. The accusation hit Anakin as hard as any punch ever could. 

Anakin stuttered over several replies; he wanted to shout out at his father for even saying such a thing. He had saved the Millennium Falcon and the scores of people crammed aboard her. "We had to get out of there," he finally managed to reply. "The moon was coming down -" 

"You left him," Han said again, more sharply.

Anakin swallowed hard in the face of that glare. He had been given no choice on Sernpidal, he reminded himself, and surely his father had to know that logically. They were too far from Chewie, with the moon too close and falling fast. They could not possibly have reached Chewie and gotten him aboard. Anakin wanted to say all of that, wanted to rush back and get the logs of the incident, certain that they would back up his reasoning. 

But he couldn't. He couldn't give any answer at all, other than to stare helplessly against the reality of the most despairing, empty expression he had ever seen on the face of his father. Always his father had been his hero, the great Han Solo. Always his father had been his strength and his answer.

And now ... 

Now the great Han Solo seemed a pitiful, broken thing, an empty shell.

"You left him," Han said again, and though his tone had gone back to quiet and calm, this third time he uttered the accusation, with the element of surprise gone, it cut Anakin even more deeply. "You turned and ran away while Chewie stood his ground and died." 

"I couldn't -" Anakin started to reply, and he was biting his lip now and blinking back the tears.

"Chewie, who had just done everything to save you," Han said with a growl, poking his finger into Anakin's chest. "You left him!"

Anakin turned and ran off. 

Han looked all around, as if conscious only then of the fact that a dozen sets of eyes had been on him and his son the whole time. Offering nothing more than a scowl in explanation, he stormed back to the Falcon's bridge and took his seat. 

How alone he felt when he turned and saw the empty seat beside him. 

Geesh.  You feel for Anakin, you feel for Han and you mourn Chewie.  Grief is a terrible thing and I think everyone has acted out in ways they regret when dealing with severe situations and loss.  Poor Han.  His interactions with Anakin here and their eventual repercussions will only intensify the impact of this traumatic event for him.  But I don’t want to start weighing in on my feelings of all that’s to come, that’s what the next book reviews will be for.

All-in-all, a truly sad day in galactic history for the GFFA. 

Han does contemplate turning around to find Chewie, I was going to paraphrase it, but why the hell not, I’m pasting it in full:

I'm going back, Han told himself. Chewie found a way to get off planet. 

Logically, it seemed impossible. Han had seen the Wookiee standing resolute, the moon descending, and there was no doubt that Sernpidal itself had died only a moment later. 

But logic could not play here, in Han's emotional turmoil. Chewie had escaped, somehow, he told himself repeatedly, and so he believed. 

He called to the next ship in the long line, a freighter, and offered the coordinates for Dubrillion, then he brought the Falcon about hard, turning back for Sernpidal, turning back for Chewie.

But then he’s called away to answer a distress signal first of some unidentified bugs attacking a ship and then from Kyp Durron (remember he was heading to Sernpidal).

He clicked off the external communicator, then, after a moment's pause, turned on the ship's internal intercom. He sat staring at it for a long, long while, then blew a sigh. "Anakin," he called. "I could use a copilot up here." 

A few moments later, his son walked tentatively into the control room and quietly slipped into the seat beside him. 

"We've got a distress call," Han explained, his tone cold and calm, offering no clue if any forgiveness was being extended, or if the interaction was just pragmatism. "I think it's Kyp. Got himself into some kind of trouble. Maybe with the bug things." 

Anakin looked at him quizzically. 

"If you'd been up here, you'd have seen them," Han replied, his words as much as his tone reminding his son that his childish tantrum had cost the Falcon a copilot for the last hour. 

Anakin wanted to yell back, to tell his father again that he had flown off Sernpidal to save the Falcon, that they had run out of time, that there was nothing they could have done to save Chewbacca. Even to determined Anakin, those words seemed hollow indeed in light of the reality, in light of the fact that Chewie was gone, was dead, and that the Wookiee had died saving him. 

The burden of that awful truth bowed the boy's head. 

Again.  Very sad for Anakin and for Han.

"It is Kyp," Han noted as the familiar, and obviously wounded, XJ X-wing came into clearer view. "Oh, no," he added, for the instruments were screaming at them, and a glance to the side told him why. 

A swarm of insects, zooming in for the X-wing and for the Falcon

"They baited us," Han insisted. "They used Kyp to lure us in." 

"You think they're intelligent?" Anakin asked skeptically. 

"I think it worked," was all that Han replied. "Get ready for some hot flying, kid!" 

Anakin set to work with his instruments. 

"Get to the top guns," Han instructed, referring to the pod of quad laser cannons atop the Millennium Falcon. The old ship had two such pods, one above and one below, along with a single gun on the front that could be controlled from the cockpit. 

As he started to rise, Anakin heard his father quietly add, "Be alive, Kyp."  

I like that little muttering overheard by Anakin at the end.  I think it shows how Han is teetering for control here and knows that he couldn’t handle another death right now, that maybe rescuing Kyp will help somehow.  But I also think that it was hard for Anakin to hear.  That this entire interaction with Han following Chewbacca’s death is just so hard and so sobering (and defining) to young Anakin.  And there’s more, as Han directs his son during the rescue:

"And don't blow Kyp out of the universe!" Han added suddenly, and Anakin winced, as if that had been a direct reference to his other recent failure. He heard his father mumbling then, and perked up his ears. 

"Dammit, Chewie," Han was saying quietly. "How am I gonna get that thing in tow without you?" 

Anakin pulled back, feeling as if he had intruded in a place where he did not belong, and tried to regain his focus on the situation at hand, though Han's plea to his dead friend stung the boy profoundly. He took a deep breath, his wounded expression solidifying into a determined scowl. He swung the rotating cockpit around, sighted a group of incoming insectlike creatures, and locked on. Then he waited, waited, holding his shot, keeping his calm. 

"Trying to hit them as they pass?" his father cried out to him. 

Anakin ignored the sarcasm and kept his cool, waiting, waiting. They were almost on the Falcon now - Anakin could see their bulbous eyes and the absolute ferocity reflected in them. 

Anakin isn’t able to shoot them all down but then does some quick thinking as he hooks to Kyp’s crippled X-wing and shocks the insects off the Falcon’s hull.  This gets him a “Nice move, kid” from his father as they slowly tow the X-wing to the nearest place they can land and see if Kyp is alive.

Meanwhile, I forgot where I left off with Luke and Mara but they arrived at that frozen planet where Danni Quee is being held and Luke took his X-wing in for a closer look, nearly crashed and then did some maneuvering and was rescued by Mara in the Jade Sabre.  And now they know that something not right is going on.  Also of note, they really try to play up the Jade Sabre, in my opinion and not just in this book but as a consistent theme.  Always describing how beautiful it is and how many people are impressed by it.  Even the mechanical-hating, Vong Yomin Carr reluctantly admired it.  IDK why I felt like mentioning it, I guess just wondering if anyone else noticed that and if it bothered them?

Okay, so let’s see.  Kyp is alive and Han is studying the weird insects flying around and then everyone is heading back to Lando as they have apparently figured out that that is where the bugs plan to hit next.  But first, Lando, old buddy, has some ‘splaining to do.  As you recall, the entire trip to Sernpidal was done as a favor for him:

 "We got your cargo unloaded," he (Han) snapped. 

Lando stared at him, confused. 

"On Sernpidal, I mean," Han went on. "We got your cargo off right before the moon fell. You think your business connection will be satisfied with that?" 

"Hey, buddy, it wasn't my fault," Lando said, patting his hands in the air. 

"It was your fault that we were there!" Han growled at him. 

Lando does a fairly good job of reminding Han that thousands of lives were saved because they happened to be there, including Kyp’s.

Han chewed his lip, his fists clenching and opening at his sides, unsure of whether he should let this inevitable battle with Lando explode now, or put his pain and anger aside until the danger had passed. 

"We can't look back at any one decision that brought us to this place," Lando said quietly, shaking his head. "If I hadn't asked you to go to Sernpidal, you wouldn't have, and Chewie would still be here. But a lot of other people would be dead right now, probably including Kyp, and we'd have no idea of what was coming against us. In that case, all of us, Chewie included, would be in serious trouble."
The logic was sound, Han had to admit privately, but still, it did little to hold his broken heart together. "They'll be coming at us in swarms," he said. "How many fighters can you put up?"

Han and the words broken heart – not a fan of them being in the same sentence.  But this begins Han’s ability to put all that aside and rise to the occasion.  They have an invasion coming and Han performs.  He and Landon begin to strategize, planning to utilize all the pilots they have on base to form a defense fleet for the planet.  During these talks, Leia returns:

"Han!" came a shout from down the corridor, and Leia came rushing out a door, C-3PO right behind her. "Oh, I heard!" she cried, running up and wrapping her husband in a tight hug. "Anakin told me." 

Han buried his face in Leia's dark hair, buried his expressions and let his inner turmoil remain a private thing. His frustration with Anakin and the evacuation of Sernpidal had not abated, not completely, even with his son's quick-thinking heroics against the insect creatures. Nor had he even begun to come to terms with the loss of his closest friend, his trusted companion and copilot for decades. And he couldn't begin to talk about it now, not without the weight of it defeating him, rendering him useless for that which was to come. His family was here, Leia's hug pointedly reminded him, his wife and his three children. If he wasn't sharp now, if he wasn't at his very best, they might all be killed. 

Leia broke the hug and pushed her husband back to arm's length. "He died saving Anakin," she remarked quietly. 

Han nodded, his expression stern. 

"Anakin's feeling horrible about it," she said with concern. 

Han started to respond, sharply, that the boy deserved to feel horrible, but he bit it back. Still, that edge found its way onto his face momentarily, long enough, apparently, for perceptive Leia to catch it. "What is it?" she prodded. 

Han looked away from her, to Lando. "Hurry up with that search," he instructed, and Lando took the cue, gave a curt bow and a wink, and rushed away. 

"What is it?" Leia prompted again, staring hard at Han, even reaching up to gently push his chin so that he was looking at her directly.

"Just some search to secure the planet," Han answered. 

"With Anakin, I mean," Leia clarified. "What is it?" 

Han blew a long sigh and stared at her hard. "A disagreement over our retreat," he explained.

"What does that mean?" 

"He left him," Han blurted, ending with a sputtering growl. He shook his head and gently but firmly moved Leia aside. "We've got to get ready for the attack," he said. 

Leia held on to his arm, forced him to turn back. 

"He left him?" she echoed suspiciously. 

"Anakin left him, left Chewie," Han spat. 

Leia, too shocked to respond, just let go, and Han stormed away, leaving her full of questions and fears.

You know how you can hold things together when you aren’t with those that are closest to you.  I imagine seeing Leia for the first time, her hugging him, was so difficult for Han as he tried to maintain some modicum of control.  I still think that his reactions here were handled as well as can be expected and my heart just goes out to all of them.  Leia presses him here, but not too much and she listens and you can tell she is trying to read between the lines to decipher all that happened and how is affecting the man that she loves.  :-(

The children all discuss the loss together and Jacen comforts a distraught Anakin telling him that their dad’s anger is over losing his best friend and not with Anakin.  Jacen also makes Anakin describe what happened and reasons with Anakin that it was the only thing that he could do to save all the lives that he onboard the Falcon and that Chewie would’ve been more mad had Anakin sacrificed everyone to save him.

The adults are forming up battle plans, seeing no other options than to fight until more help can arrive.  Lando asks about Han’s intentions:

"I'll be up there fighting," Han promised, and there was indeed the promise of death in his eyes, a cold, hard stare, as chilling a look as Leia had ever seen on his face. He was transferring his grief into anger, she knew. He was intending to make every enemy pay for the loss of his closest friend.

A shudder coursed down her (Leia’s) spine.

Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin walked into the control room then, their expressions equally solid and determined. "We'll be up, too," Jaina declared. 

"Oh, no," Han started to argue. 

"We're Jedi Knights," Jacen interrupted. "You can't keep us out of the fight." 

"I don't need three copilots," Han shot back. 

"And you've already got one, because I'm coming with you," Leia declared. Everyone in the room turned to regard her curiously. Leia had long ago traded in her warrior garb for one of diplomacy. But she steeled her gaze, an expression that offered no room for compromise. 

"There you have it," Han agreed. "Your mother's flying beside me." 

All three of the kids were shaking their heads, telling Leia clearly that Han was missing their intention. 

"I'm not your copilot," Jaina agreed. "I fly better in a starfighter."

There's some resistance by Han and Leia to let their kids fly in battle, but Lando promises that the shield’s from the planet’s surface will protect them as long as they stay low enough.  All is settled and everyone heads out as the first enemies enter the system.  Kyp is flying with Han and Leia and in one of the gun pods.  Quickly overwhelmed by the enemies’ numbers, Han and Leia realize that they’ll need both gun pods manned:

Han took a deep and steadying breath. He expected Leia to tell him to go to the lower gun pod, that she could take the helm, but he knew that his place was up here, flying the Falcon. "Just feed me the data as it comes in," he said to preempt any requests. To his surprise, though, Leia stood up. He looked at her curiously. 

"I'll be in the lower gun pod," she explained, and Han's expression turned even more incredulous.
"I feel like shooting something," Leia said, and though it was obviously a joke, a statement made to alleviate the tension, neither Han nor Leia even cracked a smile. 

Han stared at his wife for a moment, at her grim expression. Then he nodded and Leia kissed him on the cheek and headed for the lower gunnery pod.

The fight ensues until the shield generator protecting the kids is rendered non-functional.  And then this:

"Dad told us to stay low because of the shields," Jaina called to her brothers, and before they could answer, she turned her nose to the sky. "Shields are gone anyway," she explained. "Let's go and join the bigger fight." 

"We can't ... ," Jacen started to protest, but his voice trailed away. 

Jaina smiled. She knew that her father wouldn't quite see things the way she had put them to her brothers. 

But that was a fight for another day.

The girl is Han’s daughter, which is why Han needs/deserved a daughter!  I’m copying a lot here, but I’m sharing what I liked.  The Falcon is becoming overrun with enemies and is saved by some incoming friendlies:

Han and Leia's elation at the rescue lasted only the few seconds it took them to discern the source of the reinforcements: three modified TIE fighters. 

"Break back to the planet!" Han cried to his children. "Use Lando's shields!" 

"Belt-Runner I's down," Jaina replied. "No shields there, either." 

"Break back!" Han screamed. 

"Too many up here," Leia added. "We're all heading home. Let the surface guns take them!" Even as she finished, the three TIEs zoomed past the Falcon

"Go ahead," came Jaina's voice. "We'll fight the retreat." 

"Break back!" Han screamed again, trembling with a fit of rage. 

Leia called out to him over the comm, sensing, and sharing in, his distress. She knew it was worse for Han, though, understood that he was on the very edge of control here, his grief and horror for Chewbacca wrapping itself around his fears for his children, elevating his sense of loss and dread to the breaking point. He put the Falcon into a tight turn - Leia wasn't surprised - bringing her around to follow the TIE fighters, and already the two parents could hear the banter of their children as the three intercepted a host of enemy fighters. 

Mostly it was coordinating banter, the you-break-left-I've-got-the-right sort of calls that pilots always shared, but there was something else, something that unnerved and bolstered Leia all at once. 

It was their tone. 

For the kids were into it with all the passion of seasoned warriors, flying heart and soul, full of energy, full of spirit. Han and Leia heard the whoops of delight as enemy fighter after fighter went away in a burst of sparkling pieces. 

But both parents held their grim countenance, for both had seen enough battles to understand that those whoops of delight would become cries of despair in an instant if one of the three got blown apart. And now, by their instruments and the visible streaking lines before them, it seemed as if the element of surprise had flown, as if the enemy fighters were converging in an orderly and devastating fashion on the three hotshots.

I liked that part.  Han clinging to control, Leia watching her kids take the torch, so to speak.  Really bittersweet.  Good stuff.  The kids really come into their own in this book and of course all the ones following.  It's enjoyable (mostly - at least at first).

They fight on until the Falcon loses its shields.  Finally admitting that there are just too many, everyone decides to pull back.  Except Anakin, he proposes that the children run through Lando’s Folly and with their skill from practice, they could eliminate a few more enemies who would follow and perish.

Leia's eyes popped open wide. "They've got no shields " she whispered, more to herself than anyone else. But she heard Han's groan and realized that he had heard her. 

A series of whumps from the top laser cannons reminded them that their children were beyond their reach, that they, too, had no shields and there were simply too many enemy fighters between them and the kids, between them and the belt, for them to get anywhere near the three TIEs. 

Han pulled the microphone from the console and roared into it, "Break back!" 

No response, just static - the kids had already entered Lando's Folly. 

The kids fly through and everything was going as planned to the very end.  Anakin hit an asteroid and careened out into space and disappeared in a wild hyperspace jump while Jacen and Jaina exited the belt.

Han and Leia, returning from the gunnery pod, watched it all from the cockpit of the Falcon, sitting in stunned silence. They could hardly believe what they had just witnessed, the beauty and the precision, and the loss of their youngest child.  

The twins return to the surface and the Falcon goes off in search of Anakin, hoping against hope that he somehow survived.

"How could he take a chance like that?" Han scolded, aiming his ire at Leia and ignoring Kyp completely. "How could any of them? I thought we had raised our kids with more sense than to dive into an asteroid belt with a bunch of fighters chasing them!" 

"The odds of such an adventure actually succeeding -" C-3PO began, but Han cut him off with a scowl. 

Despite the grim situation, the very real possibility that their son was in serious jeopardy, Leia couldn't help but smile, even chuckle, and shake her head incredulously. "I wonder where they get that from," she remarked. 

Han looked at her curiously. 

"I know another couple of reckless pilots who took unbelievable chances," Leia reminded. "I know of one who once flew into an asteroid belt with a host of Imperial fighters on his tail." 

Han couldn't miss the reference: he had indeed done exactly that. "That was different," he insisted.

Leia shook her head again at the absurdity of it all, but Han just scowled at her profoundly. Leia let it go at that, understanding the deeper emotions at work on her husband, his fears for his children and not his own safety, and an even deeper feeling of guilt concerning Anakin, considering the last few confrontations between the two, the entire dialogue between father and son since Chewbacca's demise.

Old Threepio’s comment here was priceless.  And once again: Poor Han.  Leia “hears” Anakin calling for her, much like Luke’s call on Bespin and she and Han find him and dock with his crippled TIE.

They docked soon after, and once Anakin had boarded the Falcon and run into his mother's waiting arms, Han put the TIE in tow and turned back for Dubrillion. 

Somewhat more tentatively than he had rushed to his mother, Anakin, with Leia hovering behind, walked onto the Falcon's bridge, where his father was waiting. 

Han turned and stared hard at his son, and then his stern edge melted away and he bolted from his seat, wrapping Anakin in a bear hug. He jumped back almost at once, though, and slugged his son in the shoulder. "You ever do that to me again, kid, and I'll kick you from here to Coruscant!" 

The scolding hit Anakin's ears like the sweetest music ever played.

Han hugging Anakin here: priceless.  Whew!  What a roller coaster ride.

So some wrap up stuff.  We had a little with the retreating Vong. They weren’t too upset about losing at Dubrillion, using it more as a case study of the enemy than anything else.  Luke and Mara return and have their own grief period as they learn about Chewbacca.  They also share what they found on the frozen planet and begin to think that the key to this new enemy lies someplace within it.  They begin working with Lando to concoct a plan using some technology Lando has utilized in some of his many mining exploits called an iceborer.  They also have Threepio decipher some of the message from the villip and everyone puts a name to this new enemy:  The Vong.

Some reinforcements arrive and the Commander of the Republic ship wants to take the fight to the Helska system and not wait for reinforcements.  While Leia, Han and Luke try to convince him that this new enemy is a force to be reckoned with, the children discuss the iceborer and her mission.  Luke and Mara are supposed to take her, but Mara is feeling very ill.  Jaina and Jacen decide to go themselves to save their aunt from overextending herself.

Just as the Republic Commander tells all the adults that he will not wait to go on the offensive, Luke notices the Merry Miner (the ship carrying the iceborer) streaking out to space.  Not long after that, Threepio delivers a message from Jacen outlining their intentions.

"I'm gonna kick his -" Han started to say. 

"Jacen's right," Luke interrupted, and both Han and Leia, and Lando, as well, stared at him in disbelief. "I wish they had come to me first," Luke went on. "I wish they had better coordinated their intentions." 

"But you think that sending Jacen down into the planet is the right choice," Leia finished for him.

"As good a choice as any," Luke replied without hesitation. He grabbed Han by the arm, as the man started away - and from the look on Han's face, it was obvious that he was heading straight off for the Millennium Falcon

"You're raising Jedi Knights," Luke said to him in all seriousness. "Warriors, explorers. They can't turn away from the duty that is before them just for our peace of mind." 

"They're just kids," Han argued. 

"And so were we when the Empire unveiled the Death Star," Luke reminded. 

"Speak for yourself," Han growled. He narrowed his eyes as he stared hard at his friend. "I just went halfway across the galaxy pulling one of them back, and now I've got the other two running off in another direction," he muttered through gritted teeth. 

Luke looked to Leia and managed, with his expression, to coax a smile onto her face. "Get used to it," he said to Han. "And enjoy it while you can. You won't be able to keep up with them much longer."

Han pulled roughly away and muttered a stream of curses, and only then did Luke begin to understand the depth of his anger and frustration. He had just lost Chewbacca, and he wasn't about to lose anyone else!

Han forces Lando (in a cute little exchange) to come with them to assist the Republic Commander in the fight following his two oldest children.  Jaina and Jacen arrive at the frozen planet and Jacen ends up inside and finds Miko (the Jedi) and Danni Quee.  Meanwhile, Jaina is running out of time up above:

"Hey there, Merry Miner," came a familiar voice, and Jaina had never imagined that she would ever be this happy to hear Kyp Durron. "You need a little help?" 

A squadron of X-wings roared past, the lead ship waggling its wings at her. 

"You're going to need more help when I get you back home," came another voice, her father's voice, and the Millennium Falcon, and then the Jade Sabre, came into view.

A fight ensues.  There's some expert piloting of the Falcon by Han and Leia.  But the bad guys are beating up the good guys pretty bad. Anakin thinks that the enemies are somehow melding like he and his siblings do to fly and fight synchronized in battle.  The Commander that insisted on going before they could get reinforcements is being overwhelmed and the Falcon is called upon for assistance.

 "Great," Han muttered sarcastically. "Now I'm running bodyguard for a Star Destroyer." He turned a sly eye on Leia. "You see anything crazy about that?"

The Republic ship is destroyed and everyone starts to retreat but Jacen is still on planet and Jaina is on the Merry Miner.  Jacen has met up with Danni Quee and the pair are trying to escape, having lost the Jedi, Miko.

"Lock in coordinates for hyperspace!" Luke called repeatedly. 

"... not leaving him!" came a portion of Han's reply. 

Luke reiterated his instructions, in no uncertain terms. "We'll jump as soon as Jacen blasts free," he explained, but again, Han came back with a determined, "We're not leaving him!" 

Jaina's screech followed. "I'm hit!" she explained. 

"Jaina!" Leia cried.

Everyone gets out though and they all regroup and decide that they need to take out this warcoordinator thing (the yammosk).  Anakin comes up with a plan about absolute zero and evaporation and freezing the damn thing and as they go back with something Lando had they are all fighting again and Lando describes it best when he says this:

"What's taking them so long?" Han growled, aiming his frustration at Lando. 

Lando held up his hands helplessly. "I don't even know what we're trying to do," he insisted.

You're not alone, Lando, old buddy.  You're not alone.

Anway, Mara passes out leaving Jaina to helm the wonderful Jade Sabre.  They manage to freeze the yammosk thing to death and then begin killing all the uncoordinated fighters.  Luke plunged down in his X-wing following Jaina as she wrestled with control of the Jade Sabre.  Jaina recovered but everyone watched Luke disappear down near the planet.  Jacen warns that the freeze is only temporary and that the thing wasn’t killed and the freeze won’t last.

"And what happens when the planet starts up again?" Han asked ominously. 

"Well, with the expansion created by the ice ... ," Jacen began, and that was enough for Han, who got a typically bad feeling about this. 

"Luke," Leia whispered breathlessly. 

"Get out of here! Get out of here!" Han cried through all channels. "Full retreat!" And despite Leia's continuing plea for her missing brother, Han brought the Falcon screaming around, pointed her nose away from the fourth planet - which was beginning to rotate faster again - and punched the throttle, slowing only long enough for the Jade Sabre to come zooming by. 

It hit Han then, and hard. The reality of what he was doing, of his retreat, so much like the retreat Anakin had pulled on Sernpidal, leaving Chewie behind. He almost turned the Falcon back around, plunging toward the planet in a desperate search for Luke. 

Almost. 

But he could not. If he had been alone, then there would have been no hesitation, but he was not alone, was responsible for more lives than his own. 

As Anakin had been.    

Oh my.  

But no, everyone makes it out alive, including Luke.  Everyone begins to contemplate the future and what their jobs will be in the face of this new enemy.  Luke has his own ideas as Leia thinks of her children who will now be in the thick of it, of her ailing sister-in-law and of her grieving husband.  But also, that her role in the New Republic, to ensure that they understand the nature and the urgency of this invasion and that it will be priority one to ensure the future of them all.

We get one last look at the Vong as they, too regroup and make plans for their future.

Lastly, Chapter 26 titled “Eulogy”.  Another one you might want to read in total.  Han and Leia take the Falcon and go back to Sernpidal to say their final goodbyes.

Leia stood beside Han on the bridge, saying nothing, allowing him this moment of solitude and reflection. 

And he needed it. He had spent the last days keeping himself too busy to face this inevitable moment, had tried to avoid it in the hopes that time would lessen the pain. 

It hadn't. Not a bit. Looking down there, at the last place he had seen Chewbacca alive, Han could find no escape and no reprieve. Now he did think of his friend, fully. He pictured so many of the moments he had spent with Chewie, mostly expressions on the Wookiee's face, or a particular, peculiar howl, and no specific events. The events didn't seem important. Just the inflections in Chewie's voice, the looks he gave to Han, often argumentative, always with respect and honest love.

Han glanced over at Chewie's empty copilot seat, seeing his friend there again in his mind's eye, picturing him clearly, so vividly, and forcing it even deeper, focusing a mental image of Chewbacca so crystalline clear that he almost fostered the sudden belief that he could will the Wookiee back from the dead, that because he, Han, couldn't accept the loss, it couldn't be so. 

But it was, and Chewie was gone, and Chewie wasn't coming back.

Han goes through some memories of Chewie.  And then he thinks to the children and how he had helped them deal with loss in the past and how all his comforting words sounded shallow.  Even so, he yearns for an adult or protector to whisper those words to him now:

He had that source, somewhat, in the person of the woman standing next to him, in his wonderful wife. Leia had loved Chewie as much as he had, and though she was not as often physically close to the Wookiee, and though she didn't have as many particular memories of Chewie as Han did, her grief was no less, he knew. And yet she had buried it within her, had put her own feelings back for now so that she could help Han attend to his. 

He knew that.

It goes on as Han describes to Leia that he felt that all of his loved ones had been surrounded by a bubble of protection that made them invulnerable and that he had never truly believed anything bad could ever happen to any of them no matter how impossible that sounded or seemed and how Chewie’s death had bursted that notion.

The bubble was gone. 

The alien threat had been all but eradicated, so it seemed. 

But to Han Solo, the galaxy suddenly seemed a more dangerous place by far.

And that’s the end.  Literally, the very last words of the novel.  Very poignant, very sad.  I have to say it was even harder to read this book on the second go ‘round.  The first was all shock and disbelief, the second time was a resigned ickiness.  I don’t know a better way to describe it.  Yes, it happened and there a far worse things to follow.  Sigh.

Han and Leia factor for this book?  Damn, that’s a tough one.  As a Han and Leia fan, I think this book is pivotal and a must read if you care to understand the Han (and his family) that grows and lives in this EU.  No fade to blacks, not many kisses and nothing of a sensuous nature for them, but a very monumental part of their history as a couple, as characters and as a family.  As I mentioned before, it's the book that really brings the kids to the forefront as lead characters and not just props any longer.  So for that, I’ll give it a 4 star rating.

Up Next:  The New Jedi Order: Dark Tide Duology

9 comments:

  1. I have to say, my most favorite books of all time come from NJO. I really love Vector Prime, this whole introduction to the Vong and noone having a clue what they're really in for in the coming five years.
    About the beginning with Leia and Jaina, I always took Leia's thoughts about Jaina to also kind of be because of their strained relationship which pops up often in the first several NJO books. I mean like her thoughts of being jealous about Jaina's relationship with Mara. I really enjoy the mother-daughter moments in this book.
    And then we have Anakin and Han . . . I don't know what to feel! The feels!

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  2. Ah, where to begin. I remember hearing of the NJO being announced and thinking it was scary that "new people" were taking over (Del Rey vs. Bantam) but thinking it was cool they were going to have a huge series rather than all these stand-alone books. Then of course I got upset when I am pretty sure I knew before I read it that Chewie was going to die. I mean I probably went into reading it the same way I did with TFA thinking Han was going to die, like I knew it was going to happen but I was kind of in denial until it ACTUALLY happened. In spite of that, I did like the book, and I liked it upon my second reading. So long after reading it the first time things sparked my memory, like Mara being sick which I had forgotten about. Poor Luke, gets a wife and immediately in the next book she has a potentially terminal disease. Good point though about how it is just another reason for us to think Mara is cool or feel sorry for her or something. And can we talk about how sickening it is with Luke and Mara calling each other "my love" and "husband mine" and crap like that? Seriously? I vastly prefer Han and Leia's terms of endearment.

    I had also forgotten about Jacen's struggles with the Force and how he didn't even really want to be using it at all. I know his decline is pretty steady through these books, but I didn't remember that it all began kind of on his own before he was captured and brainwashed in later books. Then Leia and Jaina clashing, and Leia being kind of jealous of Mara. I think when I first read all of this it made me mad, but now that I'm older it just kind of seems more human. Also, it makes me think about mother/daughter relationships and how both people can be good people and love each other but still they just clash and it can be volatile. I'm that way with my own mother even though I pretty much never, ever had a disagreement with my dad. Also, it's all about perspective. I think a mom can maybe be a little jealous of a relationship an aunt has with her daughter because it is just a lot less complicated and there isn't the same kind of head-butting because the whole dynamic is just very different. But then an aunt can easily be jealous of a mother's relationship with her daughter because that is a very special thing, too. So again, while that whole thing annoyed me when I read this when I was young, it all makes a lot more sense to me now and doesn't bother me.

    It's very cool to finally see the Solo kids be real people. We had a taste of it in a few books, but in the last books we reviewed they were accessories rather than actual characters. It's so great to see Han's pride in his kids and his awe at Jaina's flying. And seeing Han and Leia worrying about their kids but knowing they are old enough that they really do have to let them go. I mean, Leia was a senator basically when she was Jaina's age.

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  3. Then of course there's Chewie. Oh, Chewie. It was so sad to see you go even though again, in the last books he was just off babysitting the kids and contributed nothing to the story, but still. I had also forgotten that it was basically Lando's fault because he sent them to Sernpidal. It was annoying to me that basically all that happened is they showed up to that planet at exactly the wrong time and it cost him his life. While I hated that this all happened, it was done well, I think. As much as I hate that Han snapped at his own son, again I guess now that I'm older and wiser I can understand why he would not really have control over his emotions in that moment and wouldn't really know what else to do. I mean, I'm sure Han still felt like he could do everything and was invincible and it wasn't like he would've had to trade the lives of everyone on board in order to save Chewie. It's a pretty natural reaction, even though it is heartbreaking not just because he lost Chewie, but because Anakin already felt awful about it and also lost someone close to him, so I'm sure he felt a thousand times worse that his father would be blaming him for it. Though I hadn't remembered that in this book Han didn't really go off the deep end and was actually somewhat reasonable still. I was happy to see that even in this book when he and Leia were worried about Anakin and thought he might've died he was quick to just embrace his son rather than remain angry with him.

    I really especially liked Han's talk to Leia about the "bubble" around the family. I can understand thinking that. I mean, even as readers we felt that. Though I agree with Push, main characters just shouldn't die, at least not in these types of stories. I know they wanted us to feel unsafe or whatever, like anyone could die. But honestly, it's not about whether we think the characters will die or not. I can still read a book or see a movie being 99% certain a certain character or characters are going to live to the end but still be on the edge of my seat when their lives are in danger wondering HOW they are going to get out of it. Did you see Toy Story 3? Am I the only one (spoiler alert) who hit a point where they thought for sure those toys were all going to be incinerated? I mean, looking back now, that's silly, like they'd burn up Woody and Buzz in a kids' movie. But the situation got so dire I still kind of felt like that. I don't think it's absolutely necessary to kill characters to freak people out about them making it through things alive. This book is where I lost my brother as an EU reading buddy because he refused to involve himself in a universe that would kill Chewbacca. I can't really say I blame him.

    I'm sure I'll have even more to add later, but I did enjoy this book in spite of the sadness. I thought everyone was written well and it's all quite ominous wondering about just how crazy the Vong are going to be to deal with. I'm just not looking forward to Han's downward spiral I know is coming :(

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  4. Okay, I have to say I really did not like this book when it came out, and it still is one of my least favourites. Not because they killed Chewie, by then he was a glorified baby sitter in the EU anyway. But I felt like this book really kicked off the trend of Mara as the TRUE heroine of SW and pushed down Leia, a trend which unfortunately continued in the rest of the NJO until a huge campaign was launched to get Leia the treatment she deserved.

    Like for one thing, Leia is declared a full Jedi by the end of VOTF and is referred to one several times by Han, Luke and Leia herself. Then in this book they're just like "Oh, Leia never completed her training, she set a bad example for her children, blah blah." A little continuity would be nice. Then Mara, who's you know, NOT the daughter of the Chosen One is magically a Jedi Master in less than the time that Luke became one. Right.

    I think I remember reading that apparently they did some poll and Mara won as the most popular character so a marketing decision was made to elevate her into the heroine of Star Wars and make the Luke/Mara romance really prominent in the NJO to sell more books. They get more implied sex and love scenes in like five books of the NJO than Han and Leia got in the entire Bantam EU.

    I guess I felt like Leia didn't feel like Leia, she lost all her spark and fire. She just sighed helplessly, told Mara she was braver than her (?!?!) and felt jealous of Jaina's friendship with Mara. And sure, teenager girls have problems with their mothers, but did it HAVE to be Mara that Jaina looked up to over her mother? This also started a trend of ALL the Solo kids looking up to Mara as their hero over their parents, even though Mara wasn't even around during their childhood and Jaina refers to Mara as her "surrogate mother" later on. Blah.

    Han's grief over Chewie was done nicely, and it was nice to see the Solo kids as adults...so that was good.

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    1. I am totally in line with this assessment. Chewie was never that big a deal to me. Mara would increasingly get on my nerves as time went on for a variety of reasons, the relationship with Luke never ever felt real to me at all. The Han in this book is Han. The one we expected. Gritty but honorable in his way. He would never ever have abandoned his child. I can relate to his misplaced emotions to Anakin though. Leia's characerization did not bother me as much as it does others, at least at this point. I LOVED the Vong as a storyline although I have later problems with losing so many of the younger generation, but as a sci fi fantasy story it was well done. I mean it was original, you know, it want just Death Star 4000. The entire line was a blend of the legacy heroes and the new jedi, whatever prior nitpicks I had with characterization and story direction, it had that very basic element of honoring the original but growing past it with integrity. I truly mourn the loss of the honorable Han to JJ's vision of an aging con man searching for his muscle car. I don't find it layered, I find it pathetic.And that Lando. Always finding the angles. Again, honoring the origins but evolving the character.

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    2. "I truly mourn the loss of the honorable Han to JJ's vision of an aging con man searching for his muscle car."

      Oh my goodness, this is the most perfect statement EVER made on the internet. Well done, Mckak.

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  5. I met the author of this book several years ago- he was the featured author at a con that a web series I co starred in was also featured. I was on a panel in a room right after him, so I basically took his chair when his panel was finished. I shook his hand and thanked him for having the guts to finally make us all remember that the OT et all are mortal and that their peril is legitimate. Because, let's face it this many years and this many close calls later, I was not even nervous for the OT any more. I wept when Chewie died, but I was not displeased with the need to re-invest emotionally because suddenly someone could actually be killed.

    I was never fan of Mara Jade- she might as well have been named Mary Sue for the way I reacted to her. She was taller, curvier, sexier, more powerful, etc. than Leia and I was all "NO". She was, in gamer parlance, a munchkin- an overpowered new character designed to keep pace with the established characters AND the 'main character' fell madly in love with her after about ten conversations. No thank you. So pretty much all of the Mara-centric moments at this juncture made me seethe. I identify with Leia a lot, btw.

    The best thing about this book was that the danger started to feel real again, which helped me stay invested when the other books spent too much time on the Vong and other issues I was less interested in. And I was genuinely concerned for people's safety for the first time since they Al survived Thrawn 1.0.

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  6. Author R A Salvatore was at the Celebration II convention in Indianapolis because he wrote the Episode II novelization. I didn't stand in line to get his autograph but I did take his picture when he was signing books in the open on the convention floor. I labeled his picture in my album "The Man who killed Chewie". Do I need to relabel this?

    My other comment on this book is that I always thought in the last chapter discussion of the "bubble" around the family that Han should have said something about "I always thought that I would go first" because Chewie would outlive him due to his longer life span.

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  7. Author R A Salvatore was at the Celebration II convention in Indianapolis because he wrote the Episode II novelization. I didn't stand in line to get his autograph but I did take his picture when he was signing books in the open on the convention floor. I labeled his picture in my album "The Man who killed Chewie". Do I need to relabel this?

    My other comment on this book is that I always thought in the last chapter discussion of the "bubble" around the family that Han should have said something about "I always thought that I would go first" because Chewie would outlive him due to his longer life span.

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